Viewpoint: Measure H: a compassionate solution to a complex problem

by Joe Lyons, Homelessness Committee chairperson, San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments

I am writing this letter to ask that you use the ballot box to help address a most serious moral, social and economic burden that has compromised our humanity, dehumanized our most vulnerable and significantly disrupted our sense of community.

For those who have opened their sample ballots and are preparing to decide among the candidates to serve on our city council, you already know that there is a second decision you are being asked to make, a decision to lessen and eliminate the moral, social and economic burden of homelessness in Los Angeles County by voting yes on Measure H. 

Being one of the 88 cities that comprise Los Angeles County, we share in being the temporary or permanent home for some of the 45,000-plus children, women and men who are without shelter on a regular or recurring basis, and the 30,000-plus who are at risk of becoming homeless because of their tenuous life circumstances. 

I, like many of you, am among the fortunate who has never experienced either homelessness or the fear of becoming homeless. Every human need, and many wants,  have been my good fortune to receive through circumstances of birth and life I simply needed to awaken to and accept.

Such cannot be said for an ever-increasing number of our neighbors who live in unacceptable conditions, and awaken each day either on the streets, in a car or camper, in a temporary homeless shelter or on a couch or floor provided by a friend or loved one. 

Some of these are among those we pass each day walking the streets of Claremont, who with each unwanted encounter draw us into the uncomfortable ambivalence created by feelings of pity and disdain, compassion and loathing. 

Despite many years of working to end both the risk of homelessness faced by people in recovery programs for mental illness and addiction and the actual homelessness that is a symptom of these conditions, I still experience these contradictory feelings that prevent my humanity from penetrating and seeing the humanity of a chronically homeless human being

However, those we cannot avoid encountering are but the few among the many who are homeless. These men and women shamelessly remind us of the almost half-century of neglect of those who live their lives in community with others who share the demographically “accepted” category of homeless.

The far greater number of homeless persons, from self-emancipated children and youth to adults and families, live out of sight, in attempts to maintain some sense of dignity and connection with the larger community in which they reside. They become known through their sometimes desperate need for food, clothing and temporary emergency shelter provided by community-based organizations like Hope Partners and the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP).

Beginning in the 1970s with the well-intentioned but ill-fated closure of mental institutions, and compounded by the hardships exacted on the integrity of families and communities by the volatile economic cycles of the 1980s and 90 and the Great Recession of 2008, it is an indisputable fact that the number of homeless, seen and unseen, has increased well past being described as a problem. Rather is it is rightly being described by federal, state and county officials as an emergency, and for the first time being addressed as such in public statements, policies and proposed programs that seek to prevent and end homelessness through local and regional efforts.

However, the cost associated with this effort is considerable, as with most problems turned emergency. In Los Angeles County, the amount has been set at around $400 million per year for 10 years. Although sizable, this amount can be raised through a quarter-cent increase in our countywide sales tax rate.

These funds will be used to create sustainable services and housing opportunities aimed at countering the impacts of life circumstances that put individuals and families at risk of homelessness, while offering rehabilitation and recovery services and stable permanent housing to those who are currently considered chronically homeless.

Through my personal efforts to help the homeless in our community, I have become acutely aware of how good people have become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the emergency, and morally compromised by a problem not of their making and seemingly not within their power to solve. However, the emergency that homelessness has become can no longer be considered either overwhelming or beyond our power to solve. 

With Measure H we have the opportunity to lessen and eliminate the moral, social and economic burden of homelessness, and with it to restore the integrity of our community. Please become part of the solution by voting yes on Measure H.


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